Go Kiwi’s

Date published: Monday, November 15, 2010

ROUGHYEDS’ Kiwi team boss Tony Benson was bursting with pride as he watched on TV as New Zealand beat Australia 16-12 in Brisbane on Saturday to take the 2010 Four Nations Trophy back across the Tasman.

Three major international trophies are now under lock and key in the land of the long white cloud, backing the claim that the Kiwis are finally closing the gap on the mighty Kangaroos.

The 2005 Tri-Nations Trophy, the 2008 World Cup and now the 2010 Four Nations Cup are all housed in Auckland and of the last six meetings of the southern hemisphere giants the Aussies have won three and the Kiwis two with one draw.

Australia were dealt a hammer blow in the Suncorp Stadium on Saturday when centre Brent Tate and star second-row man Luke Lewis were injured, but the Kiwis suffered three setbacks themselves in the build-up to the game when Frank Pritchard, Manu ‘the Beast’ Vatuvei and Junior Sa’u withdrew, Sa’u only an hour before kick-off.

“These are exciting times for rugby league back home,” said Benson. “Average age of Saturday’s team was 24 or 25 on the top side and we have a wealth of talent that, for various reasons, didn’t play in this latest triumph.

“There are a lot of young players coming through, playing numbers are on the increase, TV ratings are going up and a performances like the one we saw in Brisbane on Saturday is bound to give the game a massive boost in New Zealand.”

More than half of Saturday’s side were in the Junior Kiwis squad coached by Benson in 2005 and the game in New Zealand has, he said, made huge forward strides since then.

Added Tony: “I remember crying my eyes out when, in 1995, New Zealand first put a club team into the Australian competition. It was a huge step forward and the first major breakthrough for the game at home.

“In the years that followed we had intermittent success at national level, but the sport didn’t capitalise on it or develop its roots mainly because the administration wasn’t as strong as it should have been.

“All that has changed now. The administration is good; the Warriors are drawing record crowds; and many of the NRL clubs in Australia are brimming over with Kiwi players, particularly at under-20s level. The gap is closing, no doubt about that.

“Up to 40 per cent of all players in NRL under-20s squads are Kiwis, and the number of New Zealanders playing first grade is also very high.

“As I’ve said before, the Aussies have remained dominant at Test level even though the number of overseas players in the NRL far outweighs those in Super League — a fact that largely kills the claim here in England that the sport is held back at international level because of the number of Aussies and Kiwis who play at the top level.”

The Kiwis next go head to head with the Kangaroos in Christchurch next May, to be followed by the next Four Nations Cup a year from now in the UK involving England, Wales, Australia and New Zealand.